Californians who already voted for Buttigieg or Steyer grapple with desire for a do-over

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There may be plenty of second chances in life, but there are very few when it comes to voting — a bitter pill to swallow for those Californians who voted for any of the presidential candidates who dropped out before Tuesday’s statewide election.

The sudden exit from the race Sunday by Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Ind., sparked some brief interest on social media about the rules governing a possible revote. No doubt similar questions were raised by those who cast early absentee ballots for Tom Steyer, the billionaire climate change activist who left the race Saturday.

The answer, in a word: no. There’s no provision in California election law for a second chance once a ballot has been mailed or cast in person at a polling place or regional vote center.


“Once you vote, you vote,” said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. “There’s no do-over.”

Other candidates have also dropped out since the first ballots were mailed out more than a month ago. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang abandoned his White House bid Feb. 11, almost two weeks after some California counties began mailing out ballots. Of the 20 Democrats whose names appear on the ballot, almost half have formally suspended their campaigns since late December, when the list was certified by state elections officials.

There are no firm numbers on how many of California’s 20.7 million registered voters have already weighed in. Paul Mitchell, whose for-profit campaign research firm, Political Data Inc., tracks ballots as they are returned, said about 20% of all mailed ballots had been received by local elections officials as of Friday. But he said that underestimates how much of the race is already over, as millions of ballots that were mailed out won’t be returned.

“Our data suggests 40% of those who will participate have already voted,” Mitchell said.

California has gradually become an absentee-voting state over the last few election cycles. In the 2018 statewide primary election, 67% of all votes were cast somewhere other than an in-person polling location. Several counties are now encouraging absentee voting by sending all registered voters a ballot in the mail.

Some voters openly speculated Sunday on social media whether they could simply go to a local election site and cast a second ballot, even though they had already voted by mail. In many cases, that second ballot would cancel the first one out when elections officials entered the information into their systems. But in all cases, a voter choosing to do so could be accused of violating California election law.

“The second ballot puts a voter at risk of being accused of trying to vote twice,” Alexander said.


Supporters of Buttigieg who have yet to mail in an absentee ballot, even if it’s been marked for the now-former Democratic candidate, are in luck. They can surrender that ballot at any local voting site through the close of polls at 8 p.m. Tuesday and ask for a new ballot. And those who were already expected to vote in person — almost 2 million might still do so in Los Angeles County — can still back another candidate in the race.

Mitchell said those who voted early for Buttigieg still might shape the outcome of the California primary in an important way. The state’s Democratic presidential primary is, in fact, mostly a series of smaller primaries. Those contests are in each of the state’s 53 congressional districts, where 271 delegates will be awarded using a formula that excludes any delegate receiving less than 15% of the vote.

The most recent poll conducted for the Los Angeles Times by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies found Buttigieg was poised to win delegates in some of those regional contests. If those votes have already been cast, that offers him a role in what happens when a nominee is chosen at the Democratic National Convention in July. That could offer at least somewhat of a silver lining to those disappointed by Buttigieg’s decision to step aside.